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NMSU student network defenders place fourth in regional competition

A group of eight students from the New Mexico State University Network Security Group showed their prowess in cyber security by fighting hackers and defending their computer networks in the Southwest Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition.

A group of men and women stand outside.
The New Mexico State University Network Security Group placed fourth at the Southwest Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition in San Antonio, Texas in March. Students participating in the competition were (top left to right) Jonathan Pelletier, Wesley Proctor, Joshua Atencio, Fernando Herrera, Justin Martinez, Veronica Chavira Levario, adviser Alejandro Baca, Cristina Lopez, and adviser Matt Presser, and (bottom) Khalid Osmani. (Courtesy photo)

The group first spent Valentine?s Day at a computer lab at NMSU in a cyberspace faceoff with 18 other teams, finishing among the top nine in the virtual regional qualifying competition and earning a spot at the live regional qualifier event for the first time in club history, held in San Antonio, Texas last month.

The teams who competed at the regional qualifier in San Antonio were: University of Texas at San Antonio, New Mexico State University, University of Tulsa, Southern Methodist University, University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas A&M University-San Antonio, Sam Houston State University and Oklahoma State University.

After two full 10-hour days of competition at the regional event, against the other regional qualifiers and a ?red team? of professional hackers attacking their computer systems, NMSU placed fourth overall, a major accomplishment for their first time at the event. The University of Texas at San Antonio, the host school and one of the original creators and sponsors of the competition took first place, but NMSU will be looking to push them harder next year.

During Collegiate Cyber Defense Competitions, student teams assume administrative and protective duties for a fictitious commercial network ? typically representing a small company with 50-plus users, seven to 10 servers and common Internet services such as a web server, mail server and e-commerce site. Each team begins the competition with an identical set of hardware and software and is scored on its ability to detect and respond to outside threats, maintain function of existing services such as email and Internet, respond to business requests such as the addition or removal of additional services and balance security needs with business needs. Throughout the competition an automated scoring engine is used to verify the functionality and availability of each team?s services on a periodic basis and traffic generators continuously feed simulated user traffic into the competition network. A volunteer red team provides the external threat all Internet-based services face and allows the teams to match their defensive skills against live opponents.

?The NMSU Network Security Group was founded in 2012 by students primarily from the information engineering technology program,? said Assistant Professor Matt Presser, who also serves as adviser to the group. ?Currently, the group is comprised of members from multiple degree paths, including information engineering technology, information communication technology, computer science and business computer information systems but is open to any and all students wishing to join the club regardless of major. Much like the hands-on nature of the information engineering technology program itself, NSG?s purpose is to help students learn the theory and implementation of security technology beyond just the classroom setting.?

?It was really exciting and we enjoyed it a lot,? said Justin Martinez, information engineering technology major and current NSG club president. ?Seeing some of the ways the red team was able to hack into our systems and then watching as our team was able respond, think on its feet, adjust and continue to keep our systems running like we would have to do in the real world, it was an amazing learning experience. We also got to meet prospective employers at an after hours career fair and dinner and get to know some of the other teams we were competing against. Overall, it was just a great experience.?

Students participating in the competition were Justin Martinez, Veronica Chavira Levario, Wesley S. Proctor and Jonathan M. Pelletier, all information engineering technology majors; Fernando A. Herrera, information engineering technology and computer engineering technology major; Joshua Atencio, business computer information systems major; Cristina Lopez, computer science and information engineering technology major; Khalid Osmani; information and communication technology major; and Alejandro E. Baca, adviser.

NSG competes annually in the National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition (http://nationalccdc.org) and hopes to qualify for the regional event again next year. Students interested in the NSG can email the group at nsg@nmsu.edu.

For more information visit http://nsg.nmsu.edu or the group?s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/groups/241681102596888/